What are the secrets to happiness of one of the Philippines’ modern self-made success stories, visionary industrialist and philanthropist Ramon S. Ang of the 128-year-old San Miguel Corp. (SMC), Eagle Cement, Petron, and many other top companies?
Is it Ang’s passion for cars, or his dreaming of bold, ambitious mega-projects like the proposed new international airport, which he plans to build in Bulacan province?
The candid, humble Ang is one of the most unforgettable business tycoons I’ve ever interviewed. This was at the height of his conflict with self-made business leader Lucio C. Tan over control of Philippine Airlines (PAL). When I asked “rags-to-riches” taipan Andrew Tan of Megaworld to comment, he quoted an old Chinese saying that “a mountain cannot have two tigers,” meaning an enterprise can’t have two strong-willed, capable big bosses.
Based on my research on Ang’s business career, his late father had a motor vehicle service and parts shop on Jose Abad Santos Street, Tondo, Manila. The resourceful, hardworking Ang was a working student, who studied at Philippine Cultural High School (now Philippine Cultural College) and later took up mechanical engineering at Far Eastern University (FEU).
Called RSA, he loves cars, went into trading luxury cars and importing car parts, where he got to know vintage car lover Ambassador Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. through his eldest son, car-racing aficionado and ex-Congressman Mark Cojuangco.
Trustworthiness & entrepreneurial drive
Cojuangco made Ang manager of his Northern Cement business, where he excelled with entrepreneurial vigor. I heard that after the 1986 EDSA uprising, when the Cojuangcos were in exile, Ang honestly and loyally managed Northern Cement while others shunned or even stole from them. Cojuangco eventually returned, retook control of SMC and entrusted its management to Ang, who made it more successful.
Ang dramatically changed SMC from a beer and foods firm into one of Asia’s biggest, diversified multinational conglomerates. Cojuangco eventually chose Ang as his successor and sold the bulk of his SMC shares to him.
On June 27, Ang’s alma mater FEU, led by chairman emeritus Lourdes Montinola, chairman and CEO Aurelio “Gigi” Montinola III and president Michael Alba, conferred on him an honorary doctorate degree in business engineering at its graduation rites at Philippine International Convention Center.
Below is Ang’s speech to the FEU Class of 2018, which he delivered in his usual frank and straight-to-the-point style:
“Good afternoon. Be proud. FEU has produced the best and the brightest graduates: Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, Henry Sy of SM, Lucio Tan of PAL, Alfonso Yuchengco of RCBC, and Ramon Sy of Asia United Bank.
“FEU has competed and can compete with the best and brightest of graduates from UP, Ateneo, La Salle, Harvard, even! In every field we have excelled.
“I am an FEU graduate of Mechanical Engineering 40 years ago. Today I run San Miguel, the biggest conglomerate in the Philippines. From its original business of beer, food and packaging of about P100 billion sales revenue a year, we diversified in 2008 into a company that now has interests in oil and petrochemicals, power, infrastructure, properties, and banking. Today we are a company with P900 billion in revenues. Our beer market share is 95 percent.
“We continue to expand our feeds, flour, feed-mill, piggery, chicken-dressing plants and ready-to-eat products, packaging and property businesses, thus creating more jobs for our countrymen.
“We own Petron, which has the largest network of gas stations in the Philippines and a growing network in Malaysia.
“We are the largest power generator.
“We are a properties company that manages hotels, residential, commercial projects and economic zones.
“We manage toll roads, among them Skyway, SLEX, Star Tollway, South C6 connector road.
Through our toll roads we hope to solve traffic on EDSA.
“The Boracay Airport in Caticlan is in its finishing stage and we are building Boracay Bridge that will help solve solid waste, sewage, water, power and telecom problems.
“MRT7 and the Edsa Loop connecting SM North Edsa through Commonwealth, Batasan, to San Jose del Monte Bulacan to Malabon, Navotas, Manila to Makati will ease commuter stress.
“The Bulacan Airport will be one of the biggest airports in Asia and the world. It will have six parallel runways good for 200 million passengers equipped with mass transit. It will create 40 million jobs and bring in 20 million foreign tourists a year. A comparable country like Thailand with a population of 100 million brought in 30 million tourists.
“San Miguel also has investments in cement, banking, and BMW cars.
“I never imagined that one day, I would be accepting a doctorate from my alma mater. I am truly honored. Looking back, being a working student helped me become more equipped in dealing with people from all walks of life.
“One of the reasons for my accomplishments is because of my ability to read people and situations. I am able to adapt. I make tough decisions based on gut instinct.
“FEU has taught me well. FEU made me what I am today.
“What is the key to my happiness? Allow me to share with you what I have armed myself with in dealing with people:
“Be a man of your word.
“Know how to keep a secret.
“Work harder than anybody else.
“Be a risk-taker.
“Nothing is impossible.
“Believe in a bigger purpose.
“At San Miguel, we believe that love for country is important. That is why we continue to help as many Filipinos as we can through our products, roads, airports, and infrastructure. Building a better future for the next generation is our ultimate goal.
“My character has been molded by this school and I am proud of the contribution I have made to society. I have made my mark and I challenge you to do the same. In fact, I am inviting you to send your resumes so that we can possibly work together at San Miguel in the future.
I would also like to announce that I have started an educational fund in FEU for deserving but less-privileged students. To the class of 2018, congratulations and good luck to all of you! Mabuhay tayong lahat!”
Wilson Lee Flores’ writings appear on GoodNewsPilipinas.com on Mondays.
(Wilson Lee Flores is an award-winning writer, journalist, Kamuning Bakery artisanal breads savior, and Pandesal Forum moderator. This column was previously posted on his Bull Market Bull Sheet column on the Philippine Star. His “Kuwentong Panadero” inspiring stories are found on Pilipino STAR Ngayon. Follow @wilsonleeflores on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.)